Once the winter months hit and cold and flu season are at their peak, how to you keep your athletes healthy and ready to play? The truth is no level of vigilance and preparation will guarantee your child will not get sick two days before the championship game, however, there are things you can be doing and foods your athlete can be eating that will definitely tip the scales of health in their favor!
1. Sleep – ensure that your athlete is getting the proper amount of sleep for their age. The body needs that down time for repairs and re-energizing.
2. Fluids – make sure your athlete gets plenty of water, milk and vitamin rich fruit juices in their daily diet. Steer clear of sodas and other drinks high in sugar and artificial sweeteners.
3. Fruits & Veggies – Fresh fruits and vegetables are the absolute best source of vitamins and minerals that you can give your kids. Be creative or be fun, but get them in their daily diets. The best vitamin sources are strawberries, papaya, cantaloupe, blueberries, tomato, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots, mango and bananas. Check out USA Swimming's list of the top 5 foods to build immunity for more ideas.
4. Reduce Sugar and Sweeteners – Sugar suppresses the immune system. The fewer sugary foods you can give your athletes, the better. Sugar is the main ingredient in so many convenient processed foods. Many of the artificial sweeteners on the market today are not much better, really. Aspartame can cause headaches and more serious reactions in some. Splenda is known for causing stomach and intestinal issues. Our family doctor recommends that parents give their children Splenda when they are constipated (we have tested this one and it works).
5. Yogurt – The enzymes in yogurt are great for restoring balance in your child’s digestive tract. Look for yogurt with active cultures as they are the ones that help restore the good bacteria in your system (especially after being on antibiotics). Yogurt is also high in calcium – good for strong bones. One note – steer clear of the candy colored, high sugar yogurts.
6. Good fats – Your body needs a certain amount of good fats in order to stay healthy. Many types of fish, like salmon, are naturally high in Omega 3 Fatty acids. Another good source of Omega 3 is flax seed oil. You can easily add flax seed to oatmeal and other hot cereals and your kids will never know they are there. We use Coromega Omega-3 Supplement in the Orange Flavor. They come as little squeeze packets my kids love and they taste like orange cream with no oily residue either. I blend them into smoothies in the morning for the kids and they love it.
7. Vitamins – Vitamins B and C are two of the most important when it comes to boosting the immune system. Our pediatrician recommends a good multivitamin just to fill in the gaps in your athlete's diet. Vitamin C is available in many forms from fresh fruits, fortified in many foods, and vitamins. Personally I love Emergen-C. It is a powder that you add to water to make a fizzy, fruit flavored drink high in vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals.
8. Supplements – Sometimes athlete's just need a little extra boost. Low doses of zinc have been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the severity and duration of colds and other viruses. Probiotics are important for restoring balance to the intestinal tract – especially following antibiotic use. Many of the vitamin/supplement companies are now making children’s formulas of their products (never give children the standard adult dose of a supplement and always check with your doctor first).
Building your athlete's immune system all year long will help keep them on the playing field, in the pool, on the court or in the gym when everyone around you is looking for the box of tissues!